Traveling with film isn’t quite as straightforward as traveling with a digital camera. With digital, you simply need to pack your camera, pack your lenses, and take some batteries and memory cards. This is all the same for film photography, except, instead of some memory cards, you have to make an active decision about which and how much film you’re going to bring. The more often you travel with film, the easier this question becomes. But even still, as a veteran, I always second-guess myself each time I’m packing film for a trip.
The issue many photographers run into is “how much film should I pack for my trip?” which can then be followed by “which kind film should I take on my trip?” I think it’s easiest to reverse these questions to simplify the process of picking the best film for the specific scenes you think you might be photographing. In my opinion, traveling isn’t the best time to be experimenting with numerous films; it helps to streamline your process and maintain continuity throughout your shots if you pare your film choices down to one or two types to suit your needs. If you’re shooting classic landscapes and scenery, and already know off the top of your head that you’ll be shooting Velvia 50 all week because that’s your look, then the process of picking a film is a pretty simple one. However, if you’re someone who likes to experiment with different films, hasn’t settled down with a specific film, or is simply looking for something new and a bit more versatile, take a look at these five film suggestions.
Kodak Tri-X 400
As much as I’d like to put my personal favorite film, T-Max 400, at the top of this list, I wholeheartedly would recommend Tri-X 400 to more people for traveling, just due to its flexibility. It’s one of the easiest films out there to work with, which makes it perfect for travel shooting and any other instance where you’re not 100% sure of the type of lighting or scenery you may encounter. I’ve shot this film two stops over (at EI 200) and know people who have rated it three stops under (at EI 3200) with perfectly acceptable results. Not too many other films out there have this kind of versatility, dependability, and latitude.
Kodak Portra 400
The color equivalent of Tri-X, Porta 400 would be my next recommendation also due to its flexibility. As a negative film, Portra 400 is very receptive to over- and underexposure, making it perfect for working in bright midday light, as well as for shots at sunset. While I debated between Portra 400 and Portra 800, I prefer the colors I get from underexposing Portra 400 and pushing it, versus pulling Portra 800. Also, the grain quality of Portra 800 makes it more of a special application film, whereas Portra 400 is a true jack of all trades in the color film world.
Ilford Delta 3200
If you expect to be photographing after the sun goes down or if you think you’ll be indoors and don’t want to or can’t use a flash, then Delta 3200 is the perfect choice. I always bring along a handful of this film on all my trips as a “just-in-case” measure, for times when pushing my 400-speed film feels a bit too risky. Delta 3200 certainly has a distinct look, but the grain is still well-tempered considering its speed, making it perfectly fine for integrating with other slower-speed films.
Yes, this is a specialized film, but, like the Delta 3200, I carry some of it on most of my trips as another “just-in-case” film. Cinestill 800Tungsten is the only tungsten-balanced color negative film available and, as such, makes it perfect for photographing indoors and in urban locations at night. Versus having to use an 80A filter, I prefer to shoot with tungsten-balanced film if possible, and I genuinely like the smoothness and color rendering of this film. If you find yourself wanting to photograph indoors or at night on your next trip, especially somewhere like Las Vegas with all of its artificial lighting, Cinestill 800T can be a huge benefit.
Ilford XP2 Super
My final recommendation is for those looking to really streamline their developing process: Ilford XP2 Super is the last remaining chromogenic B&W film, and is perfect if you’re mainly a Portra shooter and are looking to squeeze in a few rolls of B&W on your trip. The convenience of being able to develop this film in C-41 is the main draw to this otherwise fairly plain film, but that isn’t to say that XP2 isn’t well-suited to a variety of tasks. It’s still a negative film with notably wide exposure latitude, it responds well to under- and overexposure, and since it’s chromogenic, its grain structure is especially smooth. Also, it has a clear base and no orange mask in case you ever did want to print this film in the darkroom.
Bonus Recommendations: FUJIFILM Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 and Kodak UltraMax 400
I’m including FUJIFILM’s Superia X-TRA 400 and Kodak’s UltraMax 400 here because they are the perfect films for more casual travel photography. For snapshots and just documenting your trip, you don’t necessarily need to concern yourself with splurging on a “professional film” when a “consumer film” will do just fine. I just wish these films were available in 120 so I could use them more often.
Back to the other question about traveling with film: the always mind-boggling “how much film should I pack for my trip?” Well, it’s a trick question and not something anyone besides you, yourself, can answer. I can tell you that for a week-long shooting trip, I usually bring 40 rolls of T-Max 400, five of Delta 3200, 10 of Portra 400, and five of Cinestill 800T. I average about seven rolls of film per day, but note that I typically shoot 120, with 10 shots per roll, so that equates to 70 frames per day. And I try to bring an extra 10 rolls if I can squeeze them in. But that figure doesn’t really help you with your own packing, and that figure varies depending on where I’m going, when I’m going there, and what I am going to be shooting. My best recommendation is to overpack as much as you can manage to carry (within reason), and then pare that number down over time as you learn your shooting habits. The worst feeling is running out of film before the end of a trip, but on the other hand, don’t pack 100 rolls of film for a weekend trip just because you can carry them. And also do mind that if you’re traveling by air, you’ll want to be a bit more careful with the amount of film you bring since you’ll need to deal with hand inspections and avoiding the X-ray machine if possible.
Do you have any film recommendations for traveling? Do you try to keep it to one types of film or do you enjoy experimenting with film while on the road? And how to do you decide how much film to bring on your trip? Let me know, down in the Comments section.
When I am driving, I usually take around 10- 35 mm and 15- 120 rolls of Fuji Acros 100, and 10- 35 mm and 15- 120 mm rolls of Kodak Ektar film. I also take 10- 35mm and 10 -120 mm rolls of Kodak Tri-X .
When I am flying out of the country for 2 weeks, I take the same amount of film. In Germany, I have to allow them to put the film through the X-ray machine (though last time, I was able to negotiate for them to put the rolls of unexposed film through the X-ray machine, but they allowed me to have the film I had shot be hand checked. I had purchased film in Italy - beautiful Ilford Pan 100 and Pan 400, and Kodak Portra 400 120 film to use when I got home.
When I run out of Fuji Acros (I have a lot of both 35 mm and 120 mm in the fridge), I will switch to Ilford FP4 and continue using Tri-X, both are very reliable. I still have some Tri-X 320 120 film in the fridge and some 4x5 320 film I purchase at B & H, it is still available. It is wonderful film, easy to use and great for printing. I hope Fuji may have the Fuji Acros II available in the US by the time I run out of my Fuji Acros.